University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing earns Guinness record with microscopic Canadian flag

A team of scientists from University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing have created the smallest-ever Canadian flag - which is virtually invisible, measuring 1/100th the width of a human hair.

Stem of maple leaf is 20 nanometres, just larger than the smallest chips made by Intel

A team of scientists from University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing have created the smallest-ever Canadian flag, according to Guinness World Records. 

The flag is virtually invisible at 1.178 micrometres long, which is about 1/100th the width of a human hair. 

The award and flag were officially unveiled at the institute's Doors Open event on Saturday – though the unveiling was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since the flag couldn't actually be seen with the naked eye.

"You need to actually use an electron microscope to see it, because even with the most powerful optical microscope, this thing looks kind of like a blur," said nanofabrication process engineer Nathan Nelson-Fitzpatrick.

"We have very powerful optical microscopes that I use for quick inspection, and I can see it's there, but I had to take it to another electron microscope in order to get that picture that you see."

Nathan Nelson-Fitzpatrick led the project to create the flag, using a UV photolithography system at the Institute for Quantum Computing facility at University of Waterloo. (Institute for Quantum Computing)

Stem just 20 nanometres wide

The flag was created by Nelson-Fitzpatrick and co-op student Natalie Prislinger Pinchin, in advance of Canada's sesquicentennial in 2017.

"Canada 150 celebrates our past, present and future," said Tobi Day-Hamilton, associate director of communications and strategic initiatives at the Institute for Quantum Computing.

"The future of Canadian technology is firmly set in the quantum world and at the nano-scale, so what better way to celebrate the lead up to 2017 than with a record-setting, nano-scale national flag."

Besides its promotional purpose, the flag is on the cutting edge of technology, said Nelson-Fitzpatrick. He used the institute's newly-acquired electron lithography tool to produce it, and the stem of the flag is less than 20 nanometres wide. 

"Which, I mean, if you're familiar with microelectronics... it's a little bit bigger than the cutting edge of what Intel or these other chip makers are doing."

The flag will be on display as part of Quantum: The Exhibition, a interactive travelling exhibit developed by the Institute for Quantum Computing that will make stops at science centres across Canada in 2017.

The first stop will be at TheMuseum on October 14. 


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